02/22/11 — A witness to history

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A witness to history

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 22, 2011 1:46 PM


The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles speaks at Wayne Community College Monday afternoon. Kyles was with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was assassinated.


Before The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles' introduction, Majesty York-Grant sang "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorite songs.

"Don't let go of your dreams," the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and one of the last living witnesses to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told a gathering Monday at Wayne Community College as part of the school's observation of Black History Month.

Kyles, who was standing only a few feet from King when he was shot to death on a hotel balcony in Memphis in 1968, still preaches the message of Civil Rights, traveling across the country as a motivational speaker.

"Much sooner than you think, you are going to be in charge of everything we do," Kyles told the young people in the audience. "You are going to be running the world."

He noted the advancement of technology and said that the future holds endless possibilities for young people, if they will only strive to make something of themselves. Don't let temporary failure and disappointment stop you from continuing to chase your dream, he said.

"Martin taught us to dream in any and every circumstance," Kyles said.

He quoted a verse by the poet Langston Hughes several times: "Hold fast to your dream, for if your dreams die, you are like broken-winged birds that cannot fly."

He said everyone has a dream, a goal, something he or she wants to do with his or her life. "It's your dream, don't let anyone rob you of you dreams," Kyles said emphatically. "Martin never stopped dreaming, through every trial and every condition."

Kyles pointed to the Wright Brothers and said that if they had listened to their critics they would never have found a way to get off the ground.

"They tried and they failed and they tried and they failed, but they kept trying and because they didn't give up, man has left his footprint on the moon" Hughes said. "It's mind-boggling. Who knows, an astronaut could be in this room right now."

Kyles said even slaves had dreams. They dreamed of a world in which their children would be free, in which they could become doctors, lawyers, and even president of the United States.

"It took a determined people to survive that madness," he said of slavery and then he harkened back to those millions of slaves who never lived to see their dreams come true.

"I owe it to my ancestors to dream big dreams," he said.

Kyles described King's final hours and said that in the final few minutes of his life, King spent some time in the hotel room with Kyles and Ralph Abernathy, "talking preacher talk."

Then he stepped outside and was shot.

"He never spoke a word," Kyles said. "They never used the word death. Finally, they said, 'We lost him.'"

"For years, I asked myself, "Why was I there? Then it came to me. A crucifixion has to have a witness, a truthful witness.

"Yes, you can kill the dreamer," Kyles said, "but let me tell you, you also cannot kill the dream. The dream is still alive."

The event was sponsored in part by the college's Cultural Diversity/Global Education Task Force, which also held a creative expression contest. The winners were Andrew L. Robinson, who made a rap video titled "I Have a Dream," and Quardelia A. Moses, who wrote a poem titled "I Too Have a Dream."

Entertainment for the event was provided by Majesty York-Grant, who sang "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Her performance drew a standing ovation.

The latter was one of King's favorite songs, Kyles noted.